The Ranching Associations
Prairie fires, Indians, wolves, livestock diseases, rustlers, and later, the intrusion of sheep herds onto prime grazing lands posed serious threats to the economic potential of cattle in the 1880s. Alberta's first ranching associations attempted to unite ranchers against these many dangers.
The members of southern Alberta's earliest formal stockman's association held their first meeting in 1882. In April of 1883, the more broadly based South West Stock Association came into being, which delegated local matters to smaller district organizations. In 1886, the association was again reorganized, calling itself the Canadian Northwest Territories Stock Association. Some of the most prosperous and influential ranchers in the area - Stanley Pinhorne and William F. Cochrane among them - were elected to draft its new constitution and bylaws. One of the regulations warns its members against both fire and self-interest.
That in case of a prairie fire it shall be incumbent upon every member of this Association, resident within a distance of fifteen miles from the starting point or place where the fire may be burning, or any member receiving notification that his assistance is required, to immediately turn out to such fire and shall also, with all possible haste, inform his nearest neighbours of the fact of the fire, and render all assistance in his power towards extinguishing it. Any member neglecting to observe the above provision shall be liable to a fine not exceeding ($50) fifty dollars, by and in the descetion [sic] of the committee, unless such member shall give satisfactory reasons to the committee for such neglect.
Prairie fires could start with little warning, even by a spark thrown from a train's wheels or smokestack, and it was the Association that drafted a petition to the federal government to institute fireguards on either side of the railways.
In 1887, new officers were elected and the name of the Association was changed yet again. Members of the Alberta Stockgrowers' Association (ASGA) agreed that a committee system was best for disposing of association business - each committee was to hand in its report, which would then be open to discussion by all present members. After a few years, however, the ASGA disintegrated, and it wasn't until the end of 1896 that members of the new Western Stock Growers' Association met in Calgary. The issues raised were familiar: homesteaders on land used for watering cattle, compulsory recording of brands, quarantines on cattle from the United States, enlargement of the stockyards at Cochrane and Calgary, and the wolf bounty.
Also recommended was the appointment of stock inspectors at all points of shipping cattle, in order to curtail theft. A law requiring stock inspectors was passed in 1897, and came into effect in 1899. Still, mavericks (unbranded, unidentified cattle) and cattle rustling, or stealing, continued to be a problem. Some ranchers even intentionally created mavericks, which they could then brand as their own.
For the most part, The Western Stock Growers Association was effective, and exists to this day.